Author's Note – What a strange challenge! Submitted for Kahlan Aisling's monthly challenge (Drabbles). This is an alternate ending to the Prisoner's Dilemma. I'm writing on the fly here, winging it, throwing the feather into the stew, or any other bird-related saying that mean 'I have no idea what I'm writing,' so you will, at the beginning at least, have about as much idea about what's going on as I do. I've never tried anything of this sort, but I'll give it a try. Well, here goes.
Disclaimer – I don't own MBS. I just don't feel like making a creative disclaimer.
Warnings – Character death, grim plot twists, out of character SQ (and possibly Mr. Curtain?)
~Drabbles for the Dream Spirit~
An explosion rent the still night air as the Third Island Prison exploded. Mr. Curtain was torn. To go rescue SQ or to escape with his own life?
SQ Pedalian was extremely proud to be where he was. Working for Mr. Curtain had always been such a pleasure, such a privilege, and now he was serving his master in a way even more important than the Ten Men's role; he was guarding the Whisperer.
KA-BOOOM! The world had ended. What else could make so much noise? The tremendous explosion shook every bone in SQ's body, from his skull to his over-large feet. His ears seemed to have been blasted from his head, his whole body reeled in shock, and the Whisperer shuddered and rolled several feet away from him.
He must save SQ. He must. Rapidly descending the stairs, Mr. Curtain climbed out of the Salamander and began to run towards the two things that had, in recent years, become his life; SQ and the Whisperer – away, in short, from his only means of escape.
The room that SQ had been in was deserted. Gone was the chair with the precious technology. Gone was that clumsy, dim-witted idiot that he had grown to see almost as a son. Where were they? Where had his hopes and dreams fled to?
Mr. Curtain turned to go to another room, to the elevator, to anywhere that SQ might have taken the Whisperer, but was blocked by walls of flame from Milligan's explosion. That man! He had blown the prison just for this – knowing that Mr. Curtain would never – never – abandon his machine. Milligan and the children had known that it would force him to choose – to make the impossible choice that was, at the same time, a choice with only one possible conclusion – between life and what was his life.
SQ tripped, his enormous foot caught in a niche where a floorboard had recently been. It must have been blasted away by the explosion. The Whisperer went rolling away from him, colliding with a crash with the door he had been heading for.
SQ got up, attempted to reclaim possession of the Whisperer, and fell over again. The smoke from the burning prison stung his eyes, but he once again clambered laboriously to his feet. Even if he himself got injured in the process, he would, no matter what, keep the Whisperer intact. He would be Mr. Curtain's hero. He would not fail, as he had in the past.
Something was broken inside Ledroptha Curtain. Broken, because he now saw what he had dreaded he would see; the Whisperer wreathed in flames, SQ lying sprawled across the floor, unmoving, seemingly unconscious…
SQ climbed back up again, only to be greeted by a truly terrible sight; The Whisperer had caught fire. The blue helmet glistened in the light from the inferno engulfing it and the red one had already melted off. Before he could continue the dispiriting analysis, however, he was swept off his feet by arms – arms clad in green plaid sleeves.
Mr. Curtain nearly fell asleep once again, his arms wrapped tightly around the klutz whom he considered as almost a son.
"You need a shave, sir," SQ croaked, his voice dry and cracked from the heat.
Mr. Curtain smiled and shook his head. What that boy could think of at times such as this!
"I thought that you were guarding the Whisperer. Why did you leave?" There was a note of anger in his voice now, and SQ heard it.
"I… I thought that you'd want me to take the Whisperer out of danger. The room was burning, so I thought I'd move it, sir. I knew it meant everything to you, so –" SQ was cut off as Mr. Curtain fell onto him, having fallen asleep from emotion.
"Sir? Sir, wake up! We need to go, sir! Say something! Sir! Sir!" But Mr. Curtain did not say anything, nor did he wake. The extremely taxing events of the past few days plus the most unusual emotion – Was it love? – had taken its toll on the brother of Mr. Benedict. Asleep he would stay.
Exhausted, SQ Pedalian allowed the still inert body of his master and – in recent months – father to slump onto the hard, cold roof of the Third Island Prison. He had dragged Mr. Curtain up three flight of stairs (the elevators were all jammed or aflame) and across a hundred yards of roof until he had reached his desired destination (a patch of roof that had a chimney to lean against) and had finally been able to drop his load. Laying him down in the bright moonlight, SQ examined the many rumples and tears in his master's suit. He hoped that Mr. Curtain wouldn't mind. At least they were safe, if only temporarily.
A bight flare of orange caught his eye as he turned to look at the elevator. It had caught on fire, no doubt lit by the oily cable below. Now the roof was ablaze, and the flames were rapidly spreading towards him and Mr. Curtain. He scooped up his master once again, his arms screaming in protest, and dragged him towards the edge of the roof. He would need to jump two stories down, and then another two stories to the ground. It would hurt, but he might just make it. And he would pull Mr. Curtain after him, so he would cushion his master's fall. He jumped.
The first things that SQ was aware of were spots. Spots, yellow, red, green… Like a stoplight he thought feverishly. Something stirred in the recesses of his mind. Then came the pain; Wave after wave of pain so intense that it induced nausea. In his legs, his chest, his arms, his head, everything screamed in agony. In too much suffering to speak, SQ writhed on the second-story roof, only vaguely aware that the figure that had landed on top of him was stirring slightly.
Mr. Curtain had played a wildcard and had lost. He had taken a risk, allowing himself to feel such fondness for the boy now moaning and writhing in agony beneath him. Now he would lose him, almost certainly. The foolish child should have realized, should have known, that he would never survive a two-story drop onto a concrete roof. And now his dear SQ would surely perish, and he himself would die too. Why had he fallen for Milligan's diversion? Now he would die, the Whisperer would die, and SQ would die. It was a terrible ending to a story that he had been so sure would end in victory.
Not all was as lost as Mr. Curtain thought, however, for before the pain of his many broken limbs caught up with him, SQ had seen something in his mind's eye – a scene that was almost like a memory, so distant and yet so familiar… Stoplight… Stoplight…
SQ Pedalian was eight. His feet had only just begun to grow, and he was the sharpest child in the village of Ducksworth. He had an IQ far above average, he could solve any math or word problem thrown at him, and he was an all-around happy, healthy child. He was in a car, driving with his parents away from the Monk building. He had just completed – and to his great astonishment failed – the strangest test he had ever taken. He had gone in response to an add that had appeared in the newspapers – Are you a gifted child looking for opportunities? – and had taken a test that, at the time, had seemed easy. But only one person had passed – a black girl, only slightly older than he. At least he had gotten doughnuts, which he devoured ravenously in the back seat.
Had he not been so focused on the intake of nutrients, SQ might have seen the stoplight, might have seen it turn red, might have seen the truck in the rear-view mirror, might have prevented the events that followed…
The bodies of his parents, bloody and still, the wreckage of their car spread across the intersection. He, hailed as a miracle, being driven away to the Ducksworth Orphanage, still clutching his bag of doughnuts…
Rocking to and fro on his bed, sobs racking his frame, his now quite large feet leaving dirty marks on the immaculate sheets, Mr. Curtain coming to him, comforting him, helping him cope…
Mr. Curtain adopting him, teaching him about a mission, control and fear…
Moving to the Institute, struggling with the material, his first session with the Whisperer… and everything fuzzed, became strange, unclear, as though some vital part of him had been swept away.
SQ Pedalian's agony peaked, then ended abruptly as Mr. Curtain took out his silvery gloves and, with a sad, sad look, touched SQ's cheek. His physical agony, anyway. His innards were still in turmoil, for now he knew the terrible secret of Ledroptha Curtain; He had brainswept his foster son, brainswept him because SQ did not fear him, and where fear could not be had, neither could there be control. Mr. Curtain had adopted SQ, taught him, shown kindness, and then taken it all away, snatched it as well as his former brilliance away using the machine which SQ had just risked his life to save.
Generations ago, Mr. Curtain had invented a machine to sweep away thoughts. A few years ago, he had used it on his foster son, merely to control him. Even unconscious, SQ's eyes filled with tears.
Yet it was not from spite that Mr. Curtain had knocked SQ out again, but from kindness. From Pity. From compassion.
When SQ awoke, he was no longer in pain. He must have been given an anaesthetic. In opening his eyes, he found himself in a dark, cold room. It seemed to grow hotter by the minute, however, and fire began to lick its way across the doorframe. Before it could reach the wall, however, It was muffled and extinguished by a green plaid sleeve.
"You!" SQ tried to sit up, but his limbs didn't seem to want to move, and some of the pain came back into his left shoulder. He stopped trying. "You lied to me! You – you brainswept me! I HATE you!"
Smoke from the fire being kept at bay by the steel door stung Mr. Curtain's eyes, but that was not the only reason that they watered. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. But I needed to have control. Otherwise, how else would you obey me without question? I had too. Please, understand." Mr. Curtain looked pleadingly at his adopted son.
"Why didn't you tell me? Why not?" SQ's eyes, too, gushed tears.
"I couldn't. Then you might not have loved me back…"
"LIAR!" SQ screamed. Mr. Curtain closed his eyes and slumped forward, once again succumbing to a deep sleep.
Madge circled the air above the prison, her sharp eyes scanning the burning building for any signs of movement – be it Master's enemy, Master's enemy's friend, or Master's enemy's chair. She saw nothing, however, and she folded her wings to her sides and dove toward Master. Master would feed her.
So much misery, all because of some children and a secret agent. To think that just because some children wanted to capture him, he would lose everything – the Whisperer, his freedom, and SQ. Not in the sense that SQ would die, no, that would be too kind a thing for the government to do. SQ no longer loved him, would no longer obey him, and probably would never even speak to him again. A huge fireball erupted out of the door, charring his coat tails. Even if SQ did hate him, he still needed to get him out alive.
Mr. Curtain ran, SQ Pedalian's broken form lying limply in his arms, his mouth lolling open. He ran down flights and flights of stairs, taking detours to escape the open flames and shortcuts to across the mazes of rooms to make up for them. Only one more flight of stairs, one turn, one door, and they would be out. Out into the open courtyard, where their only problems would be Milligan and the children. So close…
As Mr. Curtain emerged into open air, a high, cold cry resounded about the prison, setting his teeth on edge. A black shape zoomed overhead. It was a bird – a falcon, by the looks of it – and it landed in the Salamander. Mr. Curtain drew up short. That falcon had just landed in the very place that he had intended to go.
Fear settled in the pit of his stomach. Hadn't he seen that falcon before? When he had captured the children and his treacherous brother on the island, hadn't the tall girl with the bucket had a falcon? So that could mean that the falcon, returning to its master for food, had gone to the Salamander, which would imply that the children were there, which would in turn indicate a trap. Milligan hadn't set the Third Island Prison on fire for nothing – Milligan wanted to capture him.
Well, he wouldn't let that happen. He needed to save SQ. There was no way that the authorities would let SQ go free, not after the years of service to him, and he wouldn't be able to survive on his own for very long with all his broken bones from his two story leap. He sneezed from the smoke from the burning building behind him as he stood, undecided on what to do, in the dead center of the courtyard.
Another huge explosion went off behind him, and the shockwave made him stagger slightly.
SQ moaned a little in his green-clad arms, curled up like a baby.
His face was streaked with grime and ash from dragging Mr. Curtain through the prison.
As Mr. Curtain raised a hand to wipe off his adopted son's face, he was surprised to see tears glistening there. He had not been aware that people could cry when they were unconscious. SQ opened his eyes, which were red and puffy from smoke and tears.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," Mr. Curtain sobbed.
SQ looked up at him. "It's… okay. You just wanted to have… control." His speech was punctuated by agonized, hacking coughs; he had broken several ribs.
Mr. Curtain was only asleep for a second – not even long enough for him to fall to the ground and drop his precious burden – but even so, it made SQ shriek in pain as his legs were violently jarred.
As Mr. Curtain fell asleep and SQ cried out, a man much older than the junior Sasquatch pricked up his ears. Was that SQ Milligan had heard? Kate would seize Curtain and SQ if they tried to escape by means of the Salamander, and if they tried to make a run for it, Milligan could nail them with his tranquilizer gun. As long as the children and he, Milligan, were prepared, the two men couldn't escape.
Milligan chanced a peek at his adversaries from behind the flagpole. But what he saw sent dread into his heart, for he was too late. Much, much too late.
SQ was dead. Living mere moments ago, but now a still, sad form, his body cooling slowly as his heart stopped pumping. Mr. Curtain looked down at his foster son and laid gently him on the ground, too cold and empty with shock and disbelief to fall asleep. This was all his fault.
Milligan looked down at his enemy's corpse, and wept bitter tears. He had only set the explosives in the prison as a distraction, as a diversion, from escape. He had forced Mr. Curtain to find SQ and the Whisperer so that he could get an advantage, so that he could capture him. He had never intended for anyone to die. This was all his fault.
Mr. Curtain knew now who he was facing. He had thought that he was opposing a traitorous brother, a band of children, and a few adults with fairly good minds. He knew differently now. He was fighting a murderer. A cold blooded murderer with many faces and one mind. Mr. Benedict was the mind, second in brilliance only to the mind of Ledroptha Curtain.
Mr. Curtain dropped to his knees, his, eyes oozing tears, utterly and completely defeated. There was nowhere for him to go, nowhere for him to hide, and the only meaningful things in his life were gone. He had relinquished control for the first time in his life that he could recall. The will of Ledroptha Curtain had been broken.
All else faded, save his pulse beating in his ears and the body of SQ Pedalian. He knew what must happen now. He knew what had to be done.
Even so, he still made one, last attempt to ward off the dart that came to his neck. To no avail, though. The feathered dart hit him…
The world was fading, becoming blurry, grey, farewell, SQ he thought, black…
The strings that tie us together, through life and death alike, bind us. They can be broken, not by knife or by poison, but only by the acts of those who are bound. So all live together, though some may perish and decompose and others may live for eternity. As long as one is remembered, they remain, for in memory, the dead reside. There, they are forever alive.
Author's Note –That took a very grim turn, there. Trust me; I had no idea that SQ was going to die. That thing I wrote at the end for 'strings' was very reminiscent of the quotes at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I only realized that after I finished writing it down. Actually, I was hoping that I'd find a nice way to tie 'strings' into the plot, but I simply couldn't think of anything, so I just wrote up a little chunk of happiness (sort of…) to wrap up this odyssey into the land of drabbles. So… what did you think? Please review and tell me. Here's what I thought: SQ was a bit out of character, I wrote it in an extremely confusing way, Mr. Curtain didn't spend a sufficient amount of time asleep, considering how much emotional trauma he went through, the majority of it was sloppily done, it's very fragmented, and it isn't very cohesive… But boy was it fun to write! I had the time of my life writing this. I really did. Once again, please review. Thanks! (Shame upon you, ye who added Smiles to their favourites without reviewing!)